Thursday, 17 January 2013

Devil in the wind?

 "Devil's Rib" (III*), Sgurr a'Mhaim West face, Mamores.

At 9am this morning I was scared. I was alone beneath a grade III buttress called "Devil's Rib", and I was scared what the howling wind was doing to my thoughts.

I was scared I wasn't bold enough to solo it. I was scared of going home empty handed. I was scared I'd turn around and retreat, I was scared of un-finished business.

Even through the constant spindrift and my snowed-up goggles, the route looked steep as I'd trudged through soft snow in the corrie towards its start. But it looked beautiful, a spiked crest rising up to join the famous summit ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim.  I wanted it badly. 

 A relentless wind scouring the slopes of the Mamores.

But the wind…the wind seemed to be oozing negativity into my bones, tearing away the positive vibes so crucial to the mind of a soloist. Why was I so afraid of the idea of turning around, of coming back to fight another day? Fear of the route itself was only slight in comparison. Why was there such a battle raging in my mind as to whether to commit to the route or not?

My face stung with the icy needles being launched at me by the wind and I felt a deep chill. But all of a sudden my decision was made, and I started climbing. And now I felt calm.

And ever so spookily, the wind dropped to an abrupt lull and stayed there as I made my first moves up the toe of the route. Calm spread over me, and all my attention now turned to climbing this route which had for whatever reason become so significant.

A few steep steps on good turf. A narrow steepening ramp under an overhang, snapping icicles above me with my helmet. The end of the ramp, and a short but frightening crux, whispering my thanks for solid axe placements in the turf above. Over the crux, a sigh of relief, easier ground, another tricky step and then all of a sudden…the battering and ferocious wind roaring over the summit ridge of Sgurr a'Mhaim.

In the middle of the ramp before the crux

 An exposed traverse after the crux, with Stob Ban in the background

I was on top of my route and had got the better of the difficult to-and-fros that had been going on inside my head. But now a painful and slow wade through deep windslab to the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim, a rising sense of elation getting the better of me as every mountain in Lochaber blurred with swirling spindrift in the wind.

 Photography becoming difficult in the strengthening winds

And then, in the last few metres to the summit, another abrupt lull in the wind. The clouds covering the sun moved and sudden total silence enveloped the sunlit landscape around me. Not a sound, for a few moments. And the quiet gave me a minute to reflect on the route I'd just climbed, despite all that had been going on in my head. Fear, confusion and self-doubt had been replaced with ecstasy.

 The sudden calm and silent view East from the summit of Sgurr a'Mhaim

 Aonach Beag

Sometimes, very occasionally, everything comes together in a most unexpected way to create a perfect day. Lots of the days in the hills are great, but few are perfect. But every so often the stars align, and you are able to experience a very unique sense of peace and contentment. That is what happened to me today, and I'm quite happy to not be able to make sense of it.


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